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I would like to challenge one of the biggest lies about marriage. Start with this little relationship test. I’ll bet it changes the way you look at your relationship:

Assume that both you and your significant other have an unexpected day off on the same day. How would you spend your time?  

Take a moment to formulate your answer. . .

Now give yourself an A if you answered in any way that would include the idea that you would first need to sit down and talk about it with your partner. Give yourself an F if your idea did not include some consultation with your partner, because you assumed they would go along with your choice. Also give yourself an F if you assumed that you would each do separate activities on this day. (The key word here is assume.)

How did you score? (And no, there is no extra credit; my students tell me I am a tough grader.)

This brief exercise illustrates one of the greatest problems people have in marriage — and which I believe is the Number One reason why people divorce: the handling of irreconcilable differences.

Here is the bottom line about your relationship: You are two different people who will need to negotiate and not argue about the things you do together. Simply assuming that you are going to be together — or assuming the opposite, which is that you will be separate and do different things during this day off — are both simply wrong. That is because you and your partner are different, and will always need to negotiate these differences if your relationship is to succeed. Also, it’s always nice to negotiate your together time: Even though you are different, you are, after all, in a relationship together.

The mindset that you are different and will always need to negotiate should be the starting point of your marriage; in other words, marriage begins with irreconcilable differences.

If you don’t have this belief firmly entrenched in your mind at the start of each day, you will encounter problems. Even in the beginning stages of a relationship, despite the fact that you think they are very similar and share interests, you are in reality incredibly different.

Think about all the ways people can be different: We have different genes, different genders, different upbringings, different value systems, different beliefs about God, different life experiences — and that's just for starters. Can you appreciate the fact that you have had different educational experiences, experienced different parenting philosophies, grew up in different family configurations with different birth orders, and had different friends throughout your lives? Or how about different careers, hobbies, and eating preferences? We have different needs for activity, sleep, and rest. We have different sexual histories, and we even get uncomfortably cold and warm at different temperatures. Indeed, if you want to kill a weekend, make a list of all the ways your partner is different than you.

Perhaps most importantly, we have different desires for intimacy; in fact, our very definition of what constitutes intimacy is most likely different. What “close” means for one person does not necessarily translate to the other.  

Sooner or later, you will need to embrace these differences, as they compose and are the very essence of who your partner is. People in successful relationships do this.

Returning to the test at the start of this post, here is some advice that could change your entire relationship:

     If you assume that you are the same, you will always fight over your differences. However, if you assume that you are different, you will always negotiate your together time.

If you can get your mind around this idea, you’ll find yourself enjoying each other’s company a lot more — and fighting a lot less. Imagine: No more fighting over differences, no more who is right or who is wrong, just, "We’re just different, so let’s collaborate.”

Differences do not necessarily have to create distance between us, but unrecognized and unnegotiated differences usually do. Amazingly, negotiated differences can infuse huge amounts of life and vibrancy into your relationship.

Consider this illustration:

In the first instance, Sara falsely assumes her spouse and she are the same.

It is Friday night. and she asks her husband Stephen what they should do for the evening.

Stephen: I thought I would go bowling with some of the guys.

Sara (angrily): What do you mean? It’s Friday night! We are supposed to be together.

Stephen (loudly): You didn’t say anything about doing something together tonight! Why are you always telling me what to do?

Sara: All right, go with your friends. It’s obvious you don’t want to be with me.

Sarah has made the mistake of assuming that she and Stephen think alike about Friday nights; therefore, they end up fighting over their differences.

In this next vignette, Sarah and Stephen assume that they are different, and therefore negotiate their differences.

Sara: What are we doing tonight?

Stephen: I thought I would go bowling with some of the guys.

Sara: Seriously? That's a bummer. I was hoping to be with you tonight, but I see you're busy. What about tomorrow morning?

Stephen: Oh, that’s when we're having the reorganization meeting. I have to be there. It should be over by 12. Can we go for lunch at about 1:00?

Sara: Works for me.

Clearly then, you should supercharge your relationship with this idea and give the idea of divorce due to irreconcilable differences a quick kick in the pants. Let’s be team members using each other’s strengths, and not adversaries who fight over each other’s differences.

Have you given or received The Secret Gift from your partner? If not, why not try it today?

Comments and feedback are always welcome!

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